This week saw the release of statistics on Key Stage 2 attainment, broken down by pupils characteristics for 2008/09.  The figures are published as part of the Department for Children, School’s and Families’ (DCSF) programme of releasing education statistics, and is published in a Statistical First Release available as a PDF here.   While news reports have focused on the 48% of poor white boys who achieve the expected Level 4 at key stage 2, the figures need to interpreted carefully.  The term ‘poor’ comes from the measure used by the DCSF, that is eligibility for free school meals  (often referred to as FSM) and is not an unproblematic way of measuring the poverty experienced by school pupils. The key word eligibility for free school meals is misleading, as it actually describes the claiming of FSM.  Children who are ‘eligible’ for FSM also share some family background characteristics, particularly coming from a  single parent family.  The FSM figure is therefore only a proxy for poverty, although it is a widely used one.  It will exclude some children who live in ‘poor’ households.  It also serves to homogenise all children eligible for FSM, ignoring differences between them, in other words not all pupils eligible for FSM will be suffering from cultural and material deprivation and be growing up in households where educational attainment is not considered important.   Graham Hobbs and Anna Vignoles, from the London School of Economics provide a detailed analysis of the utility of using FSM data to measure pupils’ experiences of poverty.  In addition the Statistical First Release provides information on the Key Stage 2 attainment of other pupils, which to some extent has largely been ignored by the focus on ‘poor’ white boys.   The figures show that pupils from an Irish Traveller background and those of a Gypsy/Romany background do particularly poorly at Key Stage 2.  Pupils from a Pakistani and Bangladeshi background continue to do less well than their white peers, as do children from Black African and Black Caribbean backgrounds.   Indian and Chinese pupils continue to outperform other ethnic groups.  The figures also show a continuing gender gap, as overall a higher proportion of girls (74.4%) achieved Level 4 at Key Stage 2 than did boys (69.3%).The figures do indicate that class (which is difficult to measure with any degree of certainty), gender and ethnicity shape educational attainment and that an intersection of all three is significant, it is this intersection which needs to be examined in greater detail to help explain the subtleties in differential attainment of pupils by class, ethnicity and gender.


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